Brașov cultural itinerary
- This article is an itinerary.
Brasov cultural itinerary is an itinerary of the city of Brasov (in Transylvania, Romania) from a cultural point of view. This will take you to all important sites in Brasov and through an important part of the old town. It takes about 5-7 hours. The first part of this article is a short introduction which will give you an understanding of Brasov in the context of Transylvania and different cultural developments. The sites will be later related to these cultural developments. The itinerary will take into consideration all major ethnic groups that left their mark on Brasov, but there will be a bias towards Romanians, due to the fact that at present times they play the most important role in Brasov.
Eastern Romania and a part of Ukraine have been home to the first urban civilization in Europe: the Cucuteni or Trypillion Culture was contemporary with the Sumerian one and almost just as developed (3.000 - 4.000 B.C.). In spite of this fact, the epic of Romanian history is considered to start with the Dacian culture (about 500 B.C.). This was a conglomerate of tribes that stretched all over what today is Romania and even beyond. The Dacians have been conquered by the Roman Empire around the year 100 A.D. so that Romanians come out of the mix between Dacians ans Romans.
Brasov existed at the time of Roman rule (which lasted till the 3rd century A.d.) in the form of Cumidava.
Until the 11th century there is a total lack of documents about what has been going on in the territory of Romania. However in the 12th century Romania was fractured. The historic regions of Moldova and Tara Romaneasca have been consolidated in the 15th century. Transylvania has been conquered by Hungary in the 12th century. In the 12th century the Hungarian king settled Transylvania with Germans which are known as Saxons. This way the 12th century is the beginning of the saga of the cohabitation of Romanians, Hungarians and Saxons in Transylvania. Romanians were a majority but they had no rights during Hungarian rule, while the Saxons have been a privileged minority. In 1600 the three Romanian provinces (Moldova, Tara Romaneasca, Transylvania) have been united by Mihai Viteazul for one year until he has been assassinated. To the end of the 17th century Hungary along with Transylvania became part of the Austrian Hungarian empire.
Brasov has been attested in the year 1211 as having fortifications designed by the Teutonic knights. These have been challenged repeatedly by the Tatars and by the Turks, because Brasov was a border city. During this time several fortifications have been destroyed. In 1477 the construction of the Black Church is finished. In 1688 the Romanian majority is protesting against the oppression but it is not successful. One year later a huge fire burns most of the city and it takes about 100 years to rebuild it.
Romanian modern culture starts around the 16th century with the first preserved writings. The Romanians in Transylvania have been an important part of the creation of unity and fight for a national ideal. In this time intense cultural activities have been going on in Hungarian and Saxon ruling minorities as well. Art, literature and science have developed fast, almost to be up to date with western Europe. The 19th century has been a century of intense struggle for the Romanian national ideal and the reunification of the three provinces. In 1848 revolutions have happened in all provinces, but they have not been successful, so that the fight has been moved into an intellectual realm in Transylvania. After a war of independence Tara Romaneasca and Moldavia united to become the kingdom of Romania. The second half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th have been a time of rapid cultural and technological developments, as well as urbanization, especially in the kingdom of Romania.
1918 has been the year when Transylvania was united with the kingdom of Romania, and became Greater Romania. The time between the two world wars is considered to be Romania's greatest time, as it was a flourishing country, and a key player in Europe. After the second world war the communist regime landed like a dust bomb in Romania to turn everything gray: neighborhoods of historical houses have been destroyed, small business owners (which were mostly Hungarian, Jewish and Saxon) and intellectuals have been imprisoned and killed. Propaganda and oppression of everybody who was against the insane regime became the norm.
In the 16th century Brasov became an important city for printing: it had two printing presses and the world's first paper mill. Cultural activities of all ethnic groups flourished, and the introduction of street lights in 1804 became a symbol for the cultural illumination of the city. In the second half of the 19th century Brasov becomes home of Transylvanias first credit institution, and it also got a telegraph, a train, a tram, and a telephone line. In 1916 Aurel Vlaicu is flying with his plane from Brasov. In 1987 a precursor of the Romanian Anticommunist revolution takes place in Brasov. On 2nd may 1989 the painter Liviu Babes sets himself on fire on a slope in Poiana Brasov to attract international attention over atrocities committed by the communist regime. Six months later the communist regime became history.
The itinerary starts from Piata Unirii, or Union Square. The square is called this way to celebrate the union of all Romanian provinces and the birth of modern Romania. You can get here from Livada Postei with line 50 or cut 50, and from the train station, Onix or Mesota with the line 51.
Piata Unirii is located in the Schei district, which used to be the Romanian district: Romanians were not allowed to enter the city of Brasov except during the day.
St. Nicholas Church and First Romanian School
- The St. Nicholas Church is visible from the square. It is a 14th century stone orthodox church. Inside there are beautiful frescoes. When it was built it created major annoyance among the Germans and Hungarians- still it demonstrates the richness of the Romanians living around Brasov.
- Next to the church there is a small building, the first Romanian school. It is a place of major importance for Romanian culture because it represents the beginning of preoccupation for writing and reading. It is also home to the first Romanian printing press used by Diaconul Coresi. The school can be visited: you can see an original classroom, and many extraordinary books (first Russian bible, oldest book in the world, first Romanian books) as well as a demonstration with the first Romanian press. Entrance fee 2 lei for students, 5 lei regular.
Tip: if the school is closed, go outside of the church complex and then the first door to the left (it is not directly visible from the exit of the complex because of the curved wall). Here you will find the keeper and the guide of the museum. He is doing the tour with great enthusiasm and it would be nice to buy something or tip him, because this is the only financial source for this great museum.
The city gates
As you get out of the church complex, go right and walk down on Prundului street. You will pass a yellow building which is the headquarters of the Romanian Information Service. Then you will pass a bigger yellow building, the Andrei Saguna Highschool (1850), the first Romanian High School. In front of you, you will see two beautiful gates. Walk into the old city through the one on the left (Cathrine's Gate) and walk out on the one to the right (Schei Gate), because there is another stop before you will see the old city. Cathrine's gate was built in the 16th century so that the Romanians could enter the city from the Schei district. It was suited with 8 canons imported from Praha. Later the gate became unusable and only the tower remained. To compensate for this the Schei gate was built in 1827.
As you exit the old city through the Schei gate, go left up the hill on one of the roads that goes besides the stadium. You can observe the one of the walls of the stadium is actually the old city wall. The stadium has been renovated with the help of the famous Romanian tennis player and manager Ion Tiriac.
Right next to the stadium is a tennis court, and behind it the Weavers Bastion. Brasov had 8 bastions, 3 of which are still in use today (another 3 are ruins). It also had 4 towers: fortification was very important for Brasov and the locals invested a lot into their safety. Every Bastion was maintained by a guild. The Weavers bastion has been initially built in the 15th century, and two more floors have been added in the 16th century. The walls are 4m wide at the base and 1m wide at the top. Inside it there is a small museum where you can see besides weapons, a very old replica of the city as it was in the 17th century. Entrance fee 1 leu for students, 4 lei normal.
Walk back into the city from where you came, through the Schei gate. Then walk down the Poarta Schei street. Now you are in the old city of Brasov.
After you enter the old city you will soon be able to see the white Synagogue to your left. This is the first church of 4 you will encounter in just a few hundred meters. Brasov had an important Jewish community, that in 1930 represented 3.8% of the population of the city. Today there are less than 150 Jews in Brasov. The Synagogue has been built in 1899. The Synagogue can be visited for 5 lei.
Continue your stroll on Poarta Schei street, but then go left on Benkner or Roth street.
You will reach the courtyard of the German school organized by the bishop Johannes Honterus in the 16th century. He also introduced one the first printing presses to Transylvania. Next to the school the evangelic Black Church is giving shadow to travelers. It has been built in 1380 but has been partially destroyed by the big fire of 1689. It is the biggest Gothic church in eastern Europe: 89 meters long, 38 meters wide and 42 meters high. It has room for 5.000 people. The organ in the church has about 400 tubes. There are weekly organ concerts held Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. You have to pay to visit it inside: 5 lei.
Continue along the church to the town square.
The town square used to be a huge market place. The yellow building in the middle is the former 15th century town hall, now a museum and tourist info. It is also the place where the festival Cerbul de Aur is held. During the summer there are many events and festivals. The museum in the former town hall is a history museum: if you wish you can visit it now, but it is recommended you visit it only later, if you like. To the left of the town hall museum there is another museum "Casa Muresenilor"- it can also be visited later.
In the town square you can see the Romanian orthodox church "The sleep of Mother Mary". It has been built towards the end of the 19th century and is a symbol for the emancipation of Romanians and improved relations with Germans and Hungarians. It has been built after the model of the Greek church in Vienna. You can go inside and be surprised by the untypical interior.
After seeing the Synagogue, the German Church and the Romanian Church it is time to go right as you exit this site and walk down on Muresenilor street to see the Hungarian church.
The Roman-Catholic church on Muresenilor street has been built in 1782 on the site of an older Dominican monastery. It is in a baroc style. You can also visit it inside. Today service is being held in Hungarian but also in Romanian. This is the last church in the center of Brasov.
Keep walking down on Muresenilor street and you will reach Livada Postei, an open space where a lot of buses stop. To your left you will see the local University Transylvania and in front of you the Ballroom of the Army. Under the hill there is the yellow library, built in a typical Romanian style, the Brancovenescu style. Go left again, pass the bus stop and go left again (passing the library). You will end up in a big parking space. Here, just before the old wall starts is another yellow building: the Hungarian Highschool Aprily Lajos.
Old wall and the two towers
Keep walking under the hill besides the old town wall. This is the original wall, which used to be a double wall. Today most residents have a garden in between the two walls. You will soon reach the second bastion that is still standing: Bastion Graft. Today it is a cafe, where you can have a drink before you go up the hill. The Graft Bastion used to link the White tower to the city by a mobile bridge.
Next to Graft Bastion, up the hill, there is the White Tower. Go up the stairs to see it and have a great view over the city. It has been built in the 15th century and was the highest tower in Brasov. It houses a small museum.
As you watch the city from the White tower you will observe a road to the right at the base of the tower. Follow that road through the forest and then go left. You will reach the Black Tower. It has been built in the 16th century and had a mobile bridge to communicate with the city by the means of the Blacksmith Bastion. It houses a small museum.
After admiring a more close-up view from this tower you can venture back into the city. Going down the road will take you back to the wall, where you can continue your way to the right. You will be back in the old center and as you do a 180 turn onto Muresenilor street you will pass the Blacksmith Bastion which houses the National Archives today. The Blacksmith Bastion dates from the beginning of the 16th century, but it has been destroyed twice: once by a flood and once by the 1689 fire.
Walk down Muresenilor street and visit the town hall museum, and Casa Muresenilor museum (dedicated to the family Muresenilor) if you like. Then proceed through the town square on the wide Republicii street, the main shopping street. You can also have a drink here, before you will have a final walk along the other part of the wall.
Tip: Republicii street will be a crowded place with lots of cool showcases. However, you will see much more if you look up, over the stores and admire the architecture. Keep in mind that being a crowded place it would be wise to take extra precaution in order not to have something stolen.
When you reach the end of Republicii street you will end up in another open space. Before you go right you can admire the large county administration building in front of you, the post service to the left, and town hall further to the left. As you go to the right you will pass the Unirea Highschool (1897), which still has some bullet holes from the 1989 revolution. Keep going straight, pass the communist mega-store Star and go up the hill.
Under Tampa hill
Now you will walk under the hill Tampa along the old wall. First you will see the ruin of the Leather Workers Bastion (15th century). Immediately after it there is the ruin of the Goldsmith Bastion. It dates from approximately the same time as the Leather Workers Bastion, and used to have canons imported from Praha. It is programmed to be fully restored and to get a museum. As you keep walking you might be able to see the former 19th century aqueduct, before you will see the Ropers Bastion to the right. This is the first bastion to be mentioned in documents and dates from the beginning of the 15th century.
You can either take the road to the right before the Ropers Bastion, which will eventually take you to the town square, or you can keep on walking along the wall and you will end up at the Weavers Bastion again, from where you can enter the old center again by the Schei Gate or by the Cathrine Gate.